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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

VMware – threading the SMB needle

VMware has been in the news recently – a valuable asset for Dell, caught between the Dell-EMC deal (see analysis of the deal here). Just a couple of months ago VMware had its VMworld, a forum for VMware to articulate its strategy to customers, partners, media and analysts. VMware’s 2015 theme “Ready for Any” was centered on the challenges that IT professionals are facing today - security, mobility, application delivery and hybrid cloud – and the company’s strategy of supporting “One Cloud, Any Application, Any Device” as a means of empowering IT management to respond to these challenges. VMware’s vision is to “enable an architecture that lets IT deploy or consume capacity from a cloud without having to worry about the physical location or who the vendor is. To do this VMware wants make sure that different form factors of the cloud (private, public, managed, etc.) connect or are transferable”.

Hybrid IT, including hybrid cloud, is no longer an appealing future proposition; it is a current reality as workloads increasingly run internally on a highly-optimized virtual environment connected to a public cloud, and public cloud resources are being widely used for developing and testing applications to be deployed on private or hybrid clouds. Many workloads process data in the public domain and simultaneously store sensitive data in the traditional data center to meet regulatory and compliance guidelines. Techaisle’s SMB & midmarket cloud adoption survey shows that within SMBs, use of hybrid cloud will continue to increase as both a conscious strategy and as a reaction to use of both public and private resources within a single infrastructure; hybrid use is expected to top 40% within the small business market, and will be used by two-thirds of companies with 100-999 employees.

Over the last two years, as virtualization penetration within enterprises has been slowing, VMware has been broadening its solution portfolio to deliver solutions for management and delivery of on/off-premise IT infrastructure. As a result, VMware’s product line has grown beyond compute: it rolled out vSAN for storage, NSX for network, and vRealize for management. Last year, VMware announced its vision of software-defined data center (SDDC) and introduced EVO:RAIL, which ties VMware software to partner hardware for a hyper-converged appliance. In the most recent VMworld this vision was extended to EVO:RACK: while EVO:RAIL was positioned as "SDDC in a box" suitable for midmarket businesses, EVO:RACK (now marketed as VMware EVO SDDC) is aimed at large enterprise customers. In Techaisle’s view, vSAN and EVO:RAIL are also relevant solutions for SMB customers looking to adopt hyper-converged infrastructure.

In 2014, VMware had announced integration between on-premise vSphere and VMware's own public cloud (vCloud Air) enabling businesses to migrate workloads to a VMware-based public cloud. In 2015, VMware extended the narrative to announce Unified Hybrid Cloud - built on SDDC and vSphere - to enable IT professionals run, build, deliver and secure any application, anytime and anywhere. Despite new offerings it is common knowledge that VMware still lags Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure in the public cloud market.

VMware is continuing its investment in network virtualization and in the future of NSX. It announced NSX 6.2 with added features such as inter vCenter NSX support, universal firewall rules and security groups, and Trace flow. Techaisle assumes a bigger game changer to be the integration between virtual and physical networks when VMware and partners such as HP complete the support of OVSDB in NSX to manage hardware virtual tunnel end-points (VTEPs).

Key market context

While enterprise market may be saturated, virtualization adoption within SMBs is far from over. Techaisle’s SMB & midmarket Server Virtualization adoption market trends study shows that US SMB server virtualization penetration has reached 54 percent (un-weighted), up from 41 percent two years ago. Within midmarket businesses the penetration has reached 88 percent and another 7 percent are planning adoption in the next year. Across the entire SMB community, there has been a 45% increase in off-premise virtualized servers in the past two years, an enormous shift that highlights the broader shift towards remote management of infrastructure resource. VMware has positioned itself to capitalize on the immense SMB opportunity, however, it needs to have a sales motion that is specifically targeting net new customers within SMBs rather than “mining” the installed base as in enterprises.

The real VMware SMB story is in EUC – enabling untethered mobility

The real story and opportunity for VMware, though, is in end-user computing.

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Best Positioned Cloud Infrastructure Vendors - SMB & Channel View

Best positioned cloud infrastructure supplier
In Techaisle’s recent SMB Cloud Computing adoption survey, respondents were asked “which of the following do you think is best positioned to deliver cloud infrastructure solutions”. IBM was rated as being “best positioned to deliver cloud infrastructure solutions” by 24% of small businesses, and 23% of midmarket firms. Microsoft is similarly entrenched, seen as best-positioned by 21% of companies with 1-99 employees and 33% of midsized enterprises. Given that Cisco is stronger in larger accounts than in the small business market it is the third-ranked cloud infrastructure vendor in the small business segment, cited by 19% of small accounts, but just 11% of midmarket companies. Clearly, Cisco’s brand equity is helping to support its position in a market where it has sparse actual presence. AWS is viewed as best-positioned by 10% of both small and mid-sized firms, putting it slightly ahead of Dell in both markets. Perhaps as a consequence of its high-end cloud product line, HP is not viewed as a leading cloud infrastructure vendor in the small business segment but is still the third-most prominent brand in the midmarket.

Who is ‘top of mind’ for converged infrastructure?

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Techaisle Take on Ten IT Vendors in 2014, Key Questions for 2015

Dell

The year 2014 belonged to Dell with its end-to-end solution portfolio, post-privatization enthusiasm and channel momentum. In 2015 Dell will have to accelerate its market penetration with converged infrastructure, cloud client computing, security and new IT services offerings.

• Key question: Can Dell align its "breadth" capabilities with the "depth" required to position, deploy and support an increasingly-complex portfolio – and can it do so at scale?

IBM

IBM began to regain its lost glory in 2014 with rapid-fire Cloud announcements – SoftLayer, Cloudant, Bluemix, Watson analytics, Verse and Cloud Marketplace. IBM is in the best position to cement its place at the CIO table with its Cloud offerings. In 2015, IBM's biggest challenges will be to make all offerings work together instead of "ticking all boxes". Its GBS (Global Business Services) group has to announce bite-sized packaged services solutions, analytical services and performance-based pricing to disrupt the market.

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Perspective: Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Success Management

Cisco and the SMB market

Cisco has established an undisputed leadership position in the enterprise market. The company combines a widely-adopted and well-integrated portfolio of networking products with a highly-skilled (and paid) direct sales force to manage/expand its presence within major accounts.

The SMB market is a separate challenge. Here, buyers are less likely to require integration across multiple network components and more likely to emphasize price. They are also more likely to receive advice/management from channel partners, further reducing Cisco’s control over the acquisition process.

Against this backdrop, Techaisle’s SMB Channel Trends research illustrates the strengths and challenges Cisco must manage, as it looks to expand its share in the SMB segment.

Cisco Commands High Trust and Reputation within its Channel Partners

Within the channel community, Cisco enjoys a sound reputation and a high degree of trust. Techaisle’s SMB channel partner survey shows that 78 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners trust Cisco, a higher percentage than is registered by competitors such as HP and IBM. Nearly 70 percent of the partners believe that Cisco has quality products – again, the highest ranking recorded within the ‘hardware leader’ group including Cisco, HP, IBM and others. However, only 52 percent mention that Cisco has cutting edge technology, a percentage lower than that for both IBM and Microsoft. Moreover, 60 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners say that they Like Cisco, lower than corresponding rates for HP and Microsoft, only slightly higher than is found for IBM.

In its 2013 Annual report Cisco has written, “A substantial portion of our products and services is sold through our channel partners, and the remainder is sold through direct sales.” With specific reference to SMBs, Cisco wrote, “Generally, we define commercial businesses as companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. The larger, or midmarket, customers within the commercial market are served by a combination of our direct salesforce and our channel partners. Small businesses or companies with fewer than 100 employees, within the commercial market are primarily served by our channel partners.” Techaisle’s data shows that Cisco has attracted positive attention within this channel partner community, but that its technology and relationships may not leave it especially differentiated from competitors.

Data shows Cisco's SMB Channel Partner Challenges

Cisco is seeking to capitalize on market transitions and is steadily driving its channel partners to offer products and services that deploy cloud, mobility, virtualization, managed services, data center solutions and now Internet of Things. This is by no means an easy task as most SMB channel partners are being actively courted by competitive vendors that also want to grow their emerging technologies’ business. SMB channel partners selling emerging technologies have an average of 3.46 vendor partnerships; this average jumps to 4.21 for Cisco SMB partners, a difference of 21 percent. With this increased contention for mind/market/wallet share, it can be difficult for Cisco to manage brand identity and its related messaging.

This difficulty is illustrated by study findings showing that of the Cisco SMB channel partners, 44 percent consider Cisco to be their top partner. The other 56 percent mention Microsoft, Oracle, HP, IBM and several other firms. Within the VAR/SI community, Cisco’s share of preference is 48 percent; this drops to 39 percent amongst the MSPs/SPs that are viewed as critical to the success of future cloud initiatives.

It is not enough to only measure customer satisfaction or brand awareness to identify overall channel and market presence. Techaisle believes that it is important for IT vendors like Cisco to measure their Brand Equity within SMB channel partners as well as SMBs. Techaisle’s Brand Equity Score, BES-360, helps to identify areas where IT vendors can improve to increase share of wallet.

Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Brand Equity

Our research finds that Cisco has done extremely well in building trust and reputation within its own SMB channel partner base. Cisco’s Brand Equity Score within its SMB channel partners is higher than most – but lower than scores for both IBM and Microsoft. The implication of these findings is that even through Cisco has high brand equity amongst its channel partners; it is not necessarily true that its entire SMB-focused channel base is firmly wedded to Cisco’s game plan.

Breaking down the data for Cisco, Techaisle’s study finds that almost 25 percent of Cisco’s channel partners have a Brand Equity rating of 80+ (on a scale of 1 to 100). This group forms Cisco’s core partners. The data also shows that almost 35 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners have equity of less than 40. These are the partners that Cisco needs to work on.

Interestingly, small business focused channel partners give a higher Brand Equity Score to Cisco than mid-market focused channel partners. This is a segment that Cisco should address as the mid-market is a battleground for most IT vendors and there is yet no clear dominant player.

Among all SMB channel partners of Cisco, VARs are actually driving up the Brand Equity Score. In fact 41 percent of VARs constitute the HBE (High Brand Equity) group. On the other hand, MSPs constitute only 20 percent. In order for Cisco to continue to grow its CMSP program and build on its initial successes, Cisco has to turn its attention to the MSPs that serve the SMBs to understand the key reasons for lower brand equity.

Drilling down further into the data, Techaisle finds that Cisco is not doing better within the overall managed services community than it is within MSPs focused on cloud. A higher percentage of Cisco’s HBE partners are offering managed services to SMBs whereas a higher percentage of ABE (Average Brand Equity) partners are offering Cloud to SMBs. Cisco’s SMB cloud ambitions would benefit from moving some of these ABE cloud partners to HBE segment. The HBE segment offering cloud services need extensive training on cloud solutions to become more successful in offering cloud to their SMB customers. More than 40 percent of these channel partners are working with SMB customers that have private cloud. This may be good for Cisco in the short-term but it does not represent best practice in this segment, and it is misaligned with the ongoing acceptance of public cloud as a preferred IT delivery platform.

Product resale revenue is 43 percent for HBE partners as compared to 38 percent for ABE. Similarly, recurring revenue is 57 percent for HBE as compared to 61 percent for ABE. Naturally, this bodes well for Cisco’s current revenue as the High Brand Equity partners are driving higher revenues from products. However, if Cisco plans to increasingly promote services then a lot more work is required to identify partners with higher services revenues and move them into the High Brand Equity segment.

Final Perspective

Brand Equity Score findings help indicate areas of expansion or exposure as vendors, like Cisco, assess their potential for expanding the footprint of their brands within the SMB channel partner community. The composition of Cisco’s BES across its channel indicates the core strength of its brand. Techaisle’s analysis indicates that Cisco has both strengths to build on and areas requiring focus as it moves to position its next-generation solutions (especially, cloud solutions) through its channel to the SMB market.

Techaisle’s brand management work is anchored in the belief that if a vendor’s brand equity is good, then it can compete successfully with vendors with lower brand equity for sales of comparable products or services. Vendors with sound products/services but low brand equity will struggle to maintain parity with competitors that have higher brand equity, even if that vendor’s products/services are (somewhat) inferior.

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